A new season on stage

Cast member Casey Stern finds himself in drag quite often in the three-man comedy "The Complete History of America (abridged)" at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre. The play opens tonight and continues through Oct. 1.

MORGAN PETROSKI/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 10:46 p.m.
Three schlubs bobble American history in a comedy at the Acrosstown. A soldier comes home to find a family at war with itself in a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama at Gainesville Community Playhouse. And the Hippodrome heads into its second week of the absurd with "Mere Mortals."
ART skews 'History' in season opener It's a Wednesday night in downtown Gainesville, and three dudes are trudging across a dark stage, arms outstretched and moaning as if they are failed Frankenstein clones yearning for a mate.
Or possibly they are in pain. Hard to tell, really.
These are actors, mind you, three locals anchoring "The Complete History of America (abridged)," the rowdy season opener at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre. And this bizarre Frankenstein ritual is a rehearsal warm-up for a show that opens tonight.
The moaning trio is warming their vocal chords and, basically, entering that absurdity zone so critical to this play.
The Frankenstein exercise is followed by improv-comedy drills that summon Superhero Nurse Guy, Superhero Nurse Lad, pimples and an invisible camel. One improv exercise is timed, and then sped up and then sped up even more.
These odd warm-up drills make sense. Stars Casey Stern, Adam Lishawa and Drew Blair must be quick on their feet for the play at hand, a wild romp that traipses through 600 years of American history in 6,000 seconds. The pace is frenetic, and audience participation is a must.
The three play off the audience and, at times, come on to the audience. This play, one character proclaims early, is a "Post-it note for the history of America." They start with the 15th century, question who really discovered America and dress in drag.
Then, like Columbus' fleet, things really go astray.
Produced here by Thursday Afternoon Productions and directed by Esther Biggs, this comedy may have a familiar feel for local theater buffs. It was created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the same troupe that created the "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," which enjoyed a hugely successful run at the Gainesville Community Playhouse early this year.
And, indeed, the RSC elements are here: Three dim bulbs zip through volumes of academia armed with goofy props, sly pop-culture references, wigs, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, questionable taste and a general thirst to mess with the audience.
The subject matter, the characters tell you, is "from, you know, books and stuff."
RSC launched "The Complete History of America (abridged)" in 1993 at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival, the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and the Serious Fun Festival at New York City's Lincoln Center. Tours through the United States, Britain and Israel followed.
In this play, the lessons, skewed as they may be, include Betsy Ross (and her other flag ideas), witch hunts, world wars, Spanish explorers and the nags who loved them. The second act takes on film noir in an ultra-condensed history lesson that includes Lucy Ricardo and Monica Lewinsky.
Like "Shakespeare (abridged)," there is much running, jumping, entering, exiting, stomping, shouting, singing and sweating. RSC shows are defined by a frenzied pace. Here - in "America" - there is also a white Bronco, a Lewis and Clark vaudeville revue and "the best jokes of 1805."
Yet for fans of "Shakespeare (abridged)," one critical RSC element remains in "America (abridged)": white guys rapping.
- Dave Schlenker A soldier comes home in Pulitzer-winning 'Roses'
Jennie Stringfellow first saw "The Subject was Roses" about 30 years ago. The drama knocked her for an emotional loop, reminding her of the power of great theater.
"I was just so mesmerized," she recalled.
The Frank D. Gilroy play won two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Stringfellow, a staple in local theater, said she had always wanted to see this play again, so she submitted the work for consideration to the Gainesville Community Playhouse.
This year, she was pleasantly surprised when GCP's selection committee approved it as the season opener.
"GCP is not known for drama," said Stringfellow, who is directing the show, which opens Friday. Indeed, the community theater - still operating out of its second-stage site until January - is known for happier offerings, particularly musicals and comedies.
And while "The Subject was Roses" does have a handful of light moments, make no mistake, this drama is intense.
Here, 21-year-old Timmy returns home to the Bronx from World War II.
"All those casualties. He never got a scratch," notes Timmy's no-nonsense father, John. The parents consider themselves strangely fortunate, and there's quite a party on Timmy's first night home. But when the whiskey wears off, Timmy finds his family still at war with itself.
There is much more to the Cleary clan than weak coffee and strong booze.
The roses in the play's title appear in the kitchen early in the drama - gorgeous red beauties that present a glimmer of hope but, in the end, provide a critical window onto the family and its battle scars.
The play's key element? Tension. It's a tension that may ring true with many families, a tension that seeps in between loved ones over time until it becomes a concrete, emotional barricade. And while this play is set in the post-war '40s, it will remain powerful and true "as long as people lose touch with themselves and their children," Stringfellow said.
"It's so timely because of the war within us and the war on the battlefield," she said after a rehearsal last week. "We don't seem to learn."
The play runs through Sept. 18 at GCP's 2nd Stage location in Northwood Village Shopping Center. The cast: Ocala Civic Theatre regular John LaPaille plays John, Williston resident Jake Watts, no stranger to South Florida stages, plays Timmy and High Springs resident Wanda Roe, a 2004 GCP Golden Apple winner, plays troubled matron Nettie.
- Dave Schlenker one box IF YOU GO "Mere Mortals," comedy, runs through Sept. 18 at the Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE 2nd Place. Performances: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $17-$32, students $12 and up. (375-4477)
"The Complete History of America (abridged)," comedy, opens tonight and runs Thursdays-Sundays through Oct. 1 at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St. Includes live music by Josh Lederman. Tickets: $7-$9, available at Book Gallery West and Omni Books.
"The Subject Was Roses," drama, opens Friday and runs through Sept. 18 at Gainesville Community Playhouse, Northwood Village Shopping Center, north U.S. 441. Performances: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $10 at Omni Books. (376-4949)
A 1942 model Ford GPW Jeep will be on display on opening night.

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